Villanova and Seton Hall returned to action this past week after an incredibly long – and a much shorter – break, respectively. Fittingly, they faced off in an exciting contest that went down to the wire. Xavier and Georgetown are the conference’s other two idle teams, but both are scheduled to return to action later this week.
Not surprisingly, Big East teams are again beating up on each other. With the exception of Villanova, no team has a winning streak longer than two games, and two of those teams (Butler and St. John’s) are in the bottom half of the standings. We saw both losing and winning streaks end this past week, and DePaul picked up their first conference win of their still young season. Here’s to hoping the remainder of Big East play can happen without a hitch.
I’m not sure the last time that B-Frank & I unanimously agreed on the following, but it has to have been quite a while.
Best Week: Villanova
Worst Week: Marquette
Player(s) of the Week: Collin Gillespie
Let’s dive right in.
1. Villanova Wildcats: 10-1 (5-0)
How about that return from an extended layoff for Jay Wright’s team? The Wildcats hosted a hungry Seton Hall team after nearly a month off and pulled off the late win. Depending on who you ask, there might have been some controversy at the end but the story of the game was Villanova beating the rust. The Wildcats shot it extremely well from 3 and Collin Gillespie showed no ill-effects of the extended layoff. He and Jermaine Samuels had big games as Nova avoided a second straight loss at home to Seton Hall.
To follow up that performance, the Wildcats erased a small halftime deficit against a hot Providence team and won handily. Villanova overcame some first half rust and struggles shooting to win this game, something one would have expected to see in the Seton Hall game, but it came up in game two back from pause. A balanced attack for Nova won this game as no one shot it particularly well.
All things considered, this was a damn impressive week for Villanova and a testament to the program that Jay Wright has built. Not even a lengthy pause during a global pandemic could slow his team down against two teams fighting for NCAA Tournament bids. It’s time to hit the road as the Cats make their tri-state area swing starting in Storrs at UConn before heading to Newark to take on Seton Hall for the second time in four games.
2. Creighton Bluejays: 11-4 (7-3)
The Bluejays had two home games last week against teams they’d already beaten on the road in two of the most nerve-wracking fashions possible. A pair of wins would’ve put Creighton back in the top 10 nationally and put more of a buffer in between the Jays’ #2 Big East standing and the remainder of the league. Instead, they lost their second home game of the conference season to a desperate Providence team. Swiss army knife Damien Jefferson poured in a career-high 26 points, but the Friars jumped out to leads of 13-2 and 23-6 that ultimately proved insurmountable. Creighton clawed back to within a possession a couple times late in the contest, but the Jays flat out didn’t match Providence’s sustained intensity for all 40 minutes. Creighton made only 3 three-pointers that actually mattered (shooting 17.4%), and by the time Marcus Zegarowski banked in a 4th in desperation time it was too late. All of that resulted in a 74-70 defeat. Disappointing? No doubt, but not quite time to hit the panic button.
Thankfully, the Jays bounced back with a victory that knocked a James Bouknight-less UConn team out of the top-25. Denzel Mahoney shot just 1-for-10 against Providence, but led all scorers with 20 on Saturday. It was the third straight game in which Creighton failed to hit their patented offensive groove that Jays fans have become accustomed to, but they had just enough to outlast the pesky Huskies by a score of 74-66. Though the Bluejays again struggled from beyond the arc, Coach Mac’s bunch shot an impressive 58% from the floor in the second half to pull away thanks to a 14-2 run. Marcus Zegarowski is starting to look like himself again after recently returning from a tweaked hamstring and scored ten of his 15 points in the second half. The win in Omaha kept Creighton from dropping three straight for the first time since the 2018-2019 season.
Creighton looks to pick up some road wins with no fans in attendance this week at Seton Hall and DePaul.
3. Seton Hall Pirates: 9-6 (6-3)
If you’re Kevin Willard you really can’t ask for a better opportunity to notch a road win against a Top-3 team than the Pirates had this week. Seton Hall was Villanova’s first game since December 23rd and The Hall has played nearly all their games in Big East play. Plain and simple, the game was theirs for the taking and Seton Hall just couldn’t capitalize when they needed to. Jared Rhoden was outstanding in the first half before disappearing for most of the second, which simply cannot happen. Mamu needs help and while he was solid (despite 7 turnovers) Rhoden needs to be the next man up. The bench was a huge issue as well for the Pirates scoring just 8 points in a combined 50 minutes of floor time. Bryce Aiken still looks really rusty and his shot isn’t quite there yet. But there’s no excuse for guys like Tyrese Samuel and Takal Molson not to make a bigger impact.
With their game Friday against Butler getting canceled because of a false positive within the Bulldogs’ program that was all for Seton Hall last week. Looking ahead it is statement week. Two massive opportunities await The Hall with Creighton and Villanova coming to town. A split would be huge, a sweep would be massive.
4. Providence Friars: 8-7 (4-5)
Providence came out of a week in which they played the conference’s two top teams on the road at 1-1, which is exactly what the Friar faithful could’ve reasonably hoped for. In beating then 11th-ranked Creighton Wednesday night the Friars avoided their first four-game losing streak in eight years. Sometimes it’s better to be lucky than good, and a previously cold David Duke banked in a fall-away dagger from deep to put the game on ice. Incredibly, it was Providence’s third win in its last four contests against a top-15 opponent. Omaha’s CHI Health Center is a tough place to play even with a limited-capacity crowd, but the Friars jumped out to a couple massive early leads and Ed Cooley got career highs out of both Nate Watson and freshman guard Alyn Breed. The experienced Watson could do seemingly whatever he wanted to on his way to 29 points on 12-of-19 shooting. Breed added 15 of his own, also pulling down six boards. Not a whole lot of teams will have a 17-point lead on Creighton this season, and even fewer will hold them to 4-of-23 from long range.
The Friars were riding high into their Saturday afternoon matchup on campus at Villanova. They again took a lead into halftime, but after a delay to the start of the second half due to some intense sunlight were unable to keep the Big East’s flag-bearer at bay. Alyn Breed impressed with a double-double, setting a career-high scoring mark in consecutive games, this time with 18. Both he and David Duke pulled down 11 boards. After holding the Wildcats to just 24 first-half points, Jay Wright’s squad exploded for 47 in the second and Providence just couldn’t keep up. The Friars allowed an uncharacteristically-high 14 offensive boards and committed 19 turnovers. Overall, it had to have been slightly deflating to cough up a lead, but PC played three phenomenal halves of basketball against the conference’s top two opponents.
They host a reeling Marquette team Wednesday night before traveling to the nation’s capital in Georgetown’s first game back after an extended break.
5. Xavier Musketeers: 10-2 (3-2)
COVID issues within the Musketeers’ program shut the team down again last week, but Xavier is slated to return to Big East play with a Friday night showdown at Hinkle Fieldhouse against a Butler team who currently owns the second-longest winning streak in the conference. Xavier has played just 5 Big East games so far, now tied for fewest in the League with Villanova, who plays twice this week.
I’ll echo B-Frank’s thoughts from last week: where & how these games will be made up is going to be a challenge as the calendar turns to February.
6. Connecticut Huskies: 7-3 (4-3)
After looking every part a contender for the conference’s third or fourth spot, UConn has lost two straight after giving away an MLK-day matchup at home to St. John’s and a dropping close contest at Creighton. We covered last Monday’s game previously, but the Huskies’ offensive rebounding clinic was not enough to split the season series with the Jays. Though they pulled down 18 offensive boards, Dan Hurley’s squad squandered too many second opportunities to count en route to 36.5% shooting on the day. Though they held the normally-dangerous Bluejays to 30% from beyond the arc, Creighton shot over 50% from the field in total. This game would’ve looked much different had James Bouknight been in the lineup, but UConn will continue to try to find scoring in big moments while his elbow continues to heal.
RJ Cole scored 14 to lead four Huskies in double-figures. Both Cole and Tyrese Martin could seemingly get any shot they wanted, but the offense continued to spread the ball around down the stretch and struggled to finish at the basket for the duration of the contest. Connecticut has a busy week ahead of them with home games Tuesday against Butler and Thursday against Villanova before making the short journey to face off against St. Johns in hopes to avenge their MLK-day collapse. This week will go a long way in determining how the remainder of UCONN’s season turns out, and they’ll have to do it without their best player.
7. Butler Bulldogs: 5-7 (4-5)
Butler followed up their win over Creighton with an emphatic beatdown of DePaul holding the Demons to under 20 points in the first half and winning comfortably by 14. There are some nice young pieces on this team, but it has really been the veterans stepping up and making plays, Bolden was superb against DePaul and Bryce Nze pulled down 14 rebounds in the win. LaVall Jordan continues to do an excellent job in Indianapolis and just as his team looked to be heating up a false positive derailed their run of games. Fortunately, it only canceled a Friday trip to Seton Hall. The Dawgs will be back at it this week on Tuesday in Storrs against UConn who is really struggling right now, before a home game against Xavier. Butler has a really nice chance here to move up the standings and cement themselves in the middle of the pack in the Big East.
T8. St. John’s Red Storm: 9-7 (3-6)
St. John’s finished out an unorthodox non-conference slate on Saturday by dominating the visiting Utah Valley Wolverines. The Red Storm started slow, but their lead ballooned to 19 points in the second half in a contest they ultimately won 96-78. Brooklyn-native & steady freshman Posh Alexander led five Johnnies in double figures by scoring 20 points. Julian Champagnie added 19 in just 26 minutes, but the team was arguably more impressive on the defensive side of the ball. Mike Anderson had to have been ecstatic to look down at the stat sheet after the buzzer sounded to see his team had forced 22 turnovers, including an absurd 13 steals. Anderson’s bunch was outrebounded, in large part to facing off against the nation’s leading rebounder Fardaws Aimaq before a rolled ankle ended his day.
All in all it was a highlight-filled game that should instill confidence in the Johnnies ahead of a road contest at DePaul and home matchup against UConn.
T8. Marquette Golden Eagles: 8-7 (4-5)
Marquette dropped hard & fast after being tied for fourth in last week’s rankings, but how? They lost to DePaul at home after having an entire week to prepare. DJ Carton continues to impress, but his 23 points to lead all scorers weren’t buoyed by his teammates – no other Golden Eagle scored in double-figures. After receiving our prestigious co-player of the week honors, freshman star Dawson Garcia scored a season-low three points in 30 minutes. Marquette sent the Blue Demons to the charity stripe two-dozen times, which ended up being the difference in a 68-61 loss. The scoring output was Woj’s squad’s third-lowest total this season.
Marquette is a tough team to figure out. They beat then-Top 5 Wisconsin in an early-December thriller and bested Creighton on the road to open up Big East play. On the other side of the coin they barely beat an awful Georgetown team, scored just 54 in an ugly loss to UConn, and lost Saturday in Milwaukee to DePaul. The Golden Eagle faithful has grown all-too-accustomed to underachieving seasons, and this most recent loss doesn’t bode well. Marquette looks to right the ship at Providence Wednesday night in prime time before heading back home to host Butler.
10. DePaul Blue Demons: 3-5 (1-5)
Finally, the Blue Demons are in the win column. A road trip up to Marquette was exactly what the doctor ordered for the wounded Demons. DePaul quickly got over the ugly loss to Butler by beating NCAA Tournament bubble team Marquette, a team that holds wins over then Top-10 Wisconsin and Creighton. It was an ugly contest, but when it came down to crunch time, DePaul found ways to score and force bad shots from DJ Carton and Marquette. Romeo Weems did not play well at all and DePaul was able to win, that is a great sign for Dave Leitao. Freeman-Liberty was a force attacking the basket and Charlie Moore put on a clinic from the stripe in closing out a basketball game going 10-for-10.
St. John’s comes to town Wednesday as the Blue Demons look to make it back-to-back wins before Creighton is in Chicago on Saturday.
11. Georgetown Hoyas: 3-8 (1-5)
COVID still has the Georgetown program on pause. They did not play last week and are scheduled to return to action with a home contest this weekend against Providence. As mentioned last week, this extended break could be a nice reset for a Georgetown team that had experienced its fair share of struggles before having to shut down.